The Nakba … is awareness growing?

Tel Aviv-based public-opinion analyst Dahlia Scheindlin has just written an article in +972 Magazine, here, entitled “The Palestinian Nakba: Are Israelis starting to get it?”

Here is an excerpt from Dahlia Scheindlin’s piece:

“During the Camp David negotiations of 2000, when I was working with American pollster Stanley Greenberg supplying public opinion data to then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak almost nightly, the refugee issue tended to be the toughest problem, even as the Jewish public advanced significantly toward unprecedented compromises on Jerusalem (documented in Greenberg’s 2009 book).

Just after the talks collapsed, a Hebrew University survey in late July, 2000 asked Israelis (and Palestinians) whether they thought their respective leader’s compromises on each item had been appropriate, too much or too little. Among Israelis, the perception of Barak’s proposed compromises on Palestinian refugees gathered the highest ‘too much of a compromise’ response of all (64 percent gave this answer, compared to 57 percent for Jerusalem).

Twelve years later, in a December, 2012 survey by the same authors (Jacob Shamir and Khalil Shikaki), the Palestinian refugee question no longer holds the most-rejected-clause spot. That distinction now goes to the proposals on Jerusalem, based on the old Clinton framework (59 percent rejected them, 38 percent supported them). Respondents were asked about a refugee compromise which reflects the Clinton, Geneva Plan and Arab Peace Initiative approach:

Both sides agree that the solution will be based on UN resolutions 194 and 242. The refugees would be given five choices for permanent residency. These are: the Palestinian state and the Israeli areas transferred to the Palestinian state in the territorial exchange mentioned above; no restrictions would be imposed on refugee return to these two areas. Residency in the other three areas (in host countries, third countries, and Israel) would be subject to the decision of these states. As a base for its decision Israel will consider the average number of refugees admitted to third countries like Australia, Canada, Europe, and others. All refugees would be entitled to compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.

Among the 600-person sample, which included Arabs, 42 percent accepted this and 49 percent rejected it – a significant decline from nearly two-thirds who felt it was ‘too much of a compromise’ in 2000.

Behind the numbers lies a potential drama. First, they confirm what Noam Sheizaf elegantly argued, that the anti-Nakba onslaught under the previous government has failed to erase the Nakba from the public sphere, while general usage and awareness of the term has only increased. Bar-Tal also noted in a more recent study that the Israeli education system is increasingly open about exploring critical versions of history – findings that were met with a wall of resistance by the Israeli government, for the crime of comparing Israel and the Palestinians’ education system.

But the data shown here hints at something both deeper and more pragmatic. They suggest a growing realization among the Israeli people that the Nakba is not only a feature of history but alive in the present-lived reality of Palestinians and that it must be addressed in the negotiations.

Indeed, for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Nakba lives on in the form of daily occupation. Symbolically, Israel’s denial and until recently the world’s general dismissal of their historical and present symbolic narrative is a fresh death each day for the Palestinian collective psyche.

Despite the positive shifts, half of Israelis still reject the refugee compromise in the December 2012 poll; tempers rage around public debate on the topic, and a 2009 survey for the peace movement One Voice found that 60 percent of Israeli Jews totally rejected a compromise that included ‘recognition of the suffering’ of Palestinian refugees…

Here are the fundamental questions for the Israel side: first, can the Right’s frenzied efforts to stifle consciousness of the Nakba succeed? The results seem to say no. Activism recalling the Nakba has only heightened and the data here implies that the Israeli public is ahead of its leaders in acknowledging not only history, but the implications of history on conflict resolution.

Secondly, how can the large swath of the Israeli public that is prepared to reconcile with its past in the present be expanded and leveraged? How can this political maturity be brought to bear on future negotiation efforts or any other effort to resolve the situation? … can each side acknowledge the most sensitive and frightening aspects of the other party’s identity without losing its own, and then lashing out violently to protect it?”

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